Type: Literary Analysis
Pages: 10 | Words: 2882
Reading Time: 13 Minutes

An act of war is viewed as the most self-sacrificing endeavor used by different cultures to clearly and effectively define a society’s boundaries, beliefs and principles. In doing so, an intricate form of pretense is employed to gain complete and steadfast solidarity from followers. At the same time, trickery is used to manipulate competitors and onlookers into believing that the reason for war is justifiable. The use of deception in war has been a continuing and permeating trait of all modern societies, with examples having been gathered from different sources and enumerated by Glenn and Gerwehr (16-17). Deception, such as concealment, diversion, and mimicry, is also used by different animal species. Deception is practiced defensively by the prey and offensively by the predator. Minor forms of deception result in substantial advantages, but it is more effective if carried out in specific locations. As highlighted in the enumeration of principles, deception and its application in the human society is used by members of a society against their enemies. What can be considered as upright for one society may not be acceptable to another; in its compelling execution, solidarity is rapidly gained from soldiers through deception. Deception is the use of guile or astute trickery that combines art and science in raising individual belief that what is being defended or fought for is true and not otherwise. Deception, especially in war, deliberately establishes misperception in an enemy; it is carefully planned, and is not a result of chance. Whaley (188) presents that deception is a form of “information designed to manipulate the behavior of others by inducing them to accept a false or distorted presentation of their environment – physical, social or political.”  This short essay aims to explain that Sun Tzu’s principle: “All war is based on deception,” is true.

Preparing the Environment for War Through Deception

In Greek mythology, a supposed kidnapping of Helen of Troy was the reason behind the Greeks invasion of Troy. Such beguiling tactics have been used throughout human history by leaders of societies and cultures to emotionally affect the citizenry, gain support and motivate the initiation of war. Governments often resorted to lies to get the civilians to initiate a war. People generally prefer to live in a comfortable, peaceful and an environment; however, for governments to gain support for war, an illusion of damage to these values is to be created. Therefore, they need to convince their citizenry that war is the only solution to uphold those values. Nations and cultures generally do not address conflict and threat in a similar manner; war is not viewed and acted upon on a singular and patterned method. Throughout human history, several incidents of deceit applied by government leaders to initiate have been recorded. For example, a coal bin’s disastrous explosion on the USS Maine was reported by President McKinley as a mine deliberately planted by Spaniards, thus resulting in the Spanish-American War. Hitler had Germany attacked in strategic areas and reported those as attacks perpetrated by Poland. That led to the invasion of Poland and subsequent outbreak of World War II. In Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt claimed that America was a victim of a surprise attack by Japan, whereas in fact Japan was intentionally provoked to launch an attack. Facing such a formidable threat to their freedom and peace, American soldiers instantly volunteered to war. Johnson exploited an invalidated sonar report claiming that torpedoes were present in Vietnam’s TonkinGulf to unleash a war in Vietnam. The Gulf War and succeeding attacks on the Middle East countries are currently being investigated. There have been several theories regarding the deceit applied by the United States government to carry out those attacks. All these wars focused upon the need to protect a country’s democracy and freedom. Justifying an attack on Libya, US President Obama mentioned that through the act of omission Americans are going against the principle of freedom they are standing for. In light of this, governments have been noted as being willing to sacrifice their own society’s well-being and lives to raise idealism and promote war. Gore Vidal (x) said, “Our rulers for more than half a century have made sure that we are never to be told the truth about anything that our government has done to other people, not to mention our own.” This quote raises another question, what moves individuals of society into participating and risking their lives in a battle?

Attracting Potential Soldiers – Catching them While They’re Young

The military sector in different countries have been developed and expanded in different ways. In South Korea, mandatory military enlistment of males upon reaching a certain age is practiced, the deception being that South Korea has to be constantly prepared for war. The lure includes the years spent in a foreign land, the opportunity to be trained by war professionals, and the chance to use up-to-date equipment and technology. However, in the United States, soldiers are drafted voluntarily. Voluntary drafting does not often lead to a substantial head count, and as such, military personnel have successfully attracted and recruited the younger generation. Chebet claims that 17- to 18-year-olds, equipped only with a high school diploma, are encouraged to enlist in the army. However, she states that young people of this age are still included in an individual’s formative years, and that self-made and life-altering decisions are not reliable. The belief system, moral structure, and even the rush of hormones in young individuals, are not well-balanced, as they made them believe that killing another person is justifiable as long as a principal goal is achieved. They are under the delusion that search for adventure and their need for appreciation would be thoroughly quenched by the Armed Forces. The tactics used by recruitment personnel is underscored by the line “Be all that you can be.” It has also been sensationalized in recent advertisements, such as those made by Budweiser, American Airlines, Ford, and SuperBowl. There are several points of deception in the act of recruitment, such as: recruitment into the military covers the fact that entering a college is a very expensive undertaking for the majority of the younger generation; hence, being involved in a life of destitution and crime or serving the government are two options open to them. These are the ages where authority is easy to accept, and submission to the chain of command does not evoke threat.

War At Large

In his book entitled, All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque writes about the life of three young soldiers who submitted themselves unwittingly to the military and were thrown into the German-French War. The novel does not highlight the idealized notions of patriotism, duty and loyalty, upheld by soldiers being led into war. Instead, it provides a graphic representation of surviving in a kill-or-be-killed environment. The novel shows how easily, through modern technology, life can be disposed of, and how impersonal killing has become. The animal instinct of survival increases significantly in a war environment. Individuals are trying to survive exhaustion and hunger, while dealing with the moral and psychological effects of killing as being justified by the fear of dying. Remarque has also represented the damaging effects of war to these young men in terms of being at a constant threat of death, dealing with death, trying to face the issue of taking someone’s life, living in sub-par conditions, being away from their families and dealing with this through emotional disconnection. The novel underscores how easily life can be transformed from a valued possession into a disposable commodity. And that one firm assurance to survive the war is having mutual dependence and trust in someone at all times.

War is Larger than Life

O’Brien has outlined personal afflictions of several individuals being shipped off to Vietnam. The author has underscored that teams in the military do not instantly form a cohesive group. Individual psychological and emotional baggages carried into the war could either dispel or worsent experienced atrocities. Similar to Remarque, the question of dealing with all the aspects of death has been raised. On the other hand, O’Brien focuses more on the aspects of being motivated by fear of shame for failure to support one’s country’s goals and not being affected by emotions, uncertainty, killings, and death. A primary example is Cross who was subjected to war at a very young age and given the responsibility of leading a platoon. The burden of being responsible for the lives of several individuals, as well as the effects of losing members and being subjected to self-blame are but a few instances that can be seen constantly in war. With torture of locals and killing of civillians, moral values and norms are bent and justified. Though operating in a group and being surrounded by trusted people, loneliness and isolation have been a constant burden for almost all of the characters. To address these, there were instances of more dire acts performed against the enemy, but those only served to further depression in the soldiers. Story-telling has been viewed as an important aspect of life in and after war, whereby truths are stretched and often-times covered up just to project a better and more powerful image of the individual.

Motivating Soldiers to March into Battle

Winning conflicts is driven by superior training approaches, modern technologies, professionalism, and, most importantly, combat motivation. As such, the human element of combat motivation is a significant success factor in warfare. Catignani (108) lists several key factors that augment soldiers’ combat motivation by exhibiting aggressiveness, high morale and sustained fighting spirit. Catignani underscores that although in general, morale and motivation are used interchangeably, morale refers more to the group or unit condition, while motivation has to do with the condition of an individual. Throughout history of war, inferior armies have been observed to have had a greater advantage because of their combat motivation. For example, the long-running American-Vietnam war was endured by Vietnamese soldiers despite the lack of new weapons. The advantage was gained by relying on terrain, weather and exhausting the patience and spirit of the American armies.  Despite the horrible casualties the Americans were sustaining in Vietnam, troops were continuously recruited and sent to Vietnam to fight the protracted war. Studies have revealed that esprit the corps, or the spirit of camaraderie, is the primary reason for soldiers to fight. Citing Ben-Ari (116) Catignani says, “The internal strength and solidarity of the individual and the group flow from the unifying sense of belonging, of being securely together ‘in place.’ … [there is] an emphasis on joint endeavors, on cooperation and shared sentiments, on solidarity and a sense of togetherness.” This statement has been supported by various studies, showing that the ideologies of war, the principles and causes being upheld, are not the main reasons for going into combat. Instead, social cohesion, implying a more pronounced responsibility of an individual for upholding his group members’ life and completely trusting others to hold the same sentiment, is a stronger motivation for soldiers to participate in a war.

Against the Predator

Sun Tzu has described deception in war in this manner, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near,” (10). This quotation has been said to be the basis of many leaders of war such as Mao Zedon, Napoleon, and MacArthur. Sun Tzu’s contributions in the Art of War have not only found applications in the environment of war but also in other competitive environments such as sports, politics and even business strategies.  Sun Tzu has established that deception, which includes diversion tactics, in war is not entirely wrong – it is an advantage to be used to have the assurance of victory. However, in deception, resources that include human lives have to be sacrificed. Deception according to Sun Tzu affects societies psychologically, with the winning end gaining advantage in killing a nation’s spirit and not allowing this to exist again. One example can be seen in the Japanese occupation of Korea:  today, the Japanese culture – in communication methods, preferences, and even lifestyle choices, has been strongly and deeply embedded that Korea contrinues to struggle with its own identity as a nation today. Sun Tzu has somewhat underscored that deception is unprincipled or amoral; perception of morality is dependent on the observer. Sun Tzu states that deception in war is a tool that should be dutifully practiced to ensure victory.

As initially stated, several governments used deception to justify the need for war against a certain society. On the other hand, deception was also used against certain societies to initiate war. One classic example is the invasion of Poland by Germany under the leadership of Hitler and his deception of Stalin (BC). During World War II, there were four wars taking place: Germany against Europe; Germany against Russia; Japan against the USA/UK; and, Japan against China. Though Russia, France and Britain signed a pact to defend Poland against Germany, Russia withdrew from the pact and formed an alliance with Germany. Having been agreed upon by Stalin and Hitler, the pact indicated that war would not take place and that Poland would be equally divided between the two countries. The pact between Russia, France and Britain was concluded to ensure that each of these countries maintained their own interests, such as: France despised communist Russia and did not want to risk war with them; Poland wanted protection from Russia; Stalin felt that Britain and France would take on Germany if they had the chance. The pact was broken after Stalin began to stock up weapons in preparation for Hitler’s invasion of Russia. That way he wanted to avoid taking sides with France and Britain and benefit from the division of Poland. The manner in which Poland was invaded by Germany was also an act of deception, with prisoners of war dressed up as Polish soldiers supposedly attacking German border guards. German soldiers instantly poured through the borders of Poland and dissolved the country in less than six weeks. Inaction on the part of France and Britain cost Poland dearly, as the country was quickly overrun by Germany. On June 22, 1941, four million-strong German troops invaded Russia. Germany gained deceptive advantage by continuously supplying coal to Russia under the guise of continued treaty protection. It did not honor public holidays and caught its opponents off-guard and unprepared for battle. On the other hand, with Hitler’s aggressive and offensive ways, he has also led large armies to their death during the long winter months in Russia. Hitler came down in history as an unparalleled perpetrator of deceit and trickery.


War, in its many forms, is indeed formed and surrounded by deception. It is justified as an act of protecting and upholding individual, national, economic, civil and moral liberties. War was initially waged to expand nations’ frontiers through colonialism, whereby nations in the East were subjugated by Western nations. War in the New World was waged under the pretext of promoting the right religious beliefs; however, the actual goal of Spanish conquistadores was to search for gold, spice and slaves. In time, deception in war has assumed the form of standing by a country’s beliefs, as seen in the Gulf War. Terror has been used by the media to increase public’s support for war against the threat of jihad. The noble goals of upholding beliefs, image, strength and principles, are undermined by the fact that deception is used to gain soldiers for war. In the US, potential young soldiers are offered the opportunity to live a life of appreciation, hero worshipping and benefits unavailable to civilians. For Muslims the motivation of dying for Allah and rewards in the afterlife are highlighted. Other deceptive forms include the presence of child soldiers in the Middle East and other nations. Children are brainwashed to protect their motherland, and the enemies are faced with the dilemma of ending the life of a deceived but innocent child. Sun Tzu provided insightful knowledge through The Art of War, whereby some values of patience, steadfastness, and deceit are given importance. However, it raises the question of the validity of his principles in the Chinese context, such ast: How is it that China has never won an international war? Again, in the face of defeat, China is emerging as an economic giant, which is a yet another form of deceit in the global economic environment.

Works Cited

  1. BC. The Crucial Deception. 2012. 6 June 2012 <http://www.cah.utexas.edu/museums/military_artpub.php?articles=militaryarticles_hatfield_fortitude>.
  2. Catignani, S. “Motivating Soldiers: The Example of the Israeli Defense Forces.” Parameters Autumn (2004): 108-122.
  3. Chebet, C. Military Service Preys On Fragile Minds Of The Youth. 2 February 2011. 6 June 2012 <http://theminaretonline.com/2011/02/02/article16218>.
  4. Glenn, RW and S Gerwehr. The Art ofThe Art of Darkness: Deception and Urban Operations Darkness: Deception and Urban Operations. Rand Publishing, 2000.
  5. O’Brien, WT. The Things They Carried. HMH Publishing Company, 2009.
  6. Remarque, EM. All Quiet on the Western Front. Little, Brown, 1928.
  7. Tzu, Sun and James Trapp. The Art of War. Amber Books, 2011.
  8. Vidal, G. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated. Nation Books, 2002.
  9. Whaley, B. “Toward a General Theory of Deception.” The Journal of Strategic Studies V.1 (1982): 178-192.
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